Agressive policing

police and students

Over 38 years I’ve worked often with Police officers both as colleagues in investigations and in a monitoring role. I have a huge respect for the Police and the job they do, having spent time observing in custody suites I am generally amazed by the patience and forbearing shown  by officers under extreme provocation. However i’m also aware that some individual police officers and certain tactical techniques create a very bad taste in the mouth.

Yesterday i was walking towards Westminster tube station along the same side of the road as Parliament. I could see in front of me that there were a lot of protestors on the pavements opposite parliament. As I got close to Parliament two police officers told me that the pavement ahead was closed and I would need to cross the road. Fair enough, I crossed the road and started to walk towards Westminster Abbey. As I got close to the Abbey I asked an officer the best way to get through the crowd to the tube station. He directed me back across the road towards Parliament along with a number of other people, mostly tourists. I crossed the road. As I turned towards the tube station 3 officers in body armour started walking towards me and a number of other people, again apparently tourists, who were walking towards the tube station. They started agressively shouting at us ‘everybody, go that way now’, in other words back the way we had come. I said to the that their colleagues had directed us across the road which they ignored continuing to walk towards us yelling ‘go that way, now’, pointing at individuals and shouting ‘you, go that way’.  The level of aggression and the level of implied threat was completely disproportionate to what they were trying to do. There was no real reason for it and, although they achieved their objective, they did so in a way that gave an impression to me and the tourists around me that im not sure the Commissioner would be happy with. I wasn’t.

Are you ready?

apocalypse

I’ve been sitting on a virtual hill mentally looking all around me and wondering where we might be at globally. There’s a lot to worry about. Our financial systems continue to be shaky with almost daily predictions of doom from economists. Greece continues to be a problem and Iceland has just decided not to pay back the millions of euros it still owes to the rest of Europe. We’re seeing frequent natural disasters, most recently in Chile. Political systems are week with growing tension between left and right even in the USA. Europe’s borders are threatened by a resurgent Russia and by mass migration. Most importantly though we’re probably at the beginning of World War 3 although generally we don’t understand that yet.

Let’s think about the refugee crisis for a bit. Europe is experiencing a mass migration of people from the Middle East and North Africa and is struggling to understand how to deal with it. Any estimate as to how many are on the move is at best an educated guess but in the last couple of days there have been close to 20,000 people moving across borders in Eastern Europe. That shows no signs of stopping soon and that figure ignores those that have actually made it to Greece or Italy. As migrants succeed in reaching safe havens on Northern Europe that will encourage more to come and there is nothing we are doing internationally that is likely to stop that.

Now think about why they are coming. The obvious answer is the war. The fact is that the population of Syria and many other parts of the Middle East and North Africa is in danger of being slaughtered. Da’Esh are the demons everybody thinks of but bloody conflict has been tearing the area apart since Saddam Hussien effectively initiated the first Iraq war. In fact from central Africa northwards to Libya and eastwards to the Afghan border (and possibly beyond) there is no safe haven and the lives of men, women and children are being taken daily in conflicts most of which have their roots in the Sunni/Shia or Muslim/Christian divides. These are broad generalisations and there is much more that could be said about that. The key question for the political leaders of the world is how are you going to stop this? The key question behind that is whether there is any political structure capable of acting. NATO, the EU, the UN are effectively silent and inactive.

Now lets look at what is taking place on the ground. Da’Esh are an extreme cult of Shia Islam dedicated to reestablishing a Caliphate and indeed they have already declared that one exists. They are focussed on fulfilling their view of Islamic prophecy which predicts the final victory of Islam in a great battle with Christianity at a town called Dabiq. Like Al Qaeda they are tacitly supported by Saudi Arabia (a Shia state) who have taken no effective steps to bring them to heel despite the  horrors they have inflicted on the world.

Da’Esh came out of Iraq and Syria where a multitude of Islamic and Christian groups have been fighting to overthrow the Assad regime with the encouragment and support of the West. The war in Syria has now grown from what initially seemed to be a local issue (similar to the situation in Libya and that turned out well didn’t it?) and is arguably now a proxy war against Da’Esh involving the Western nations. We all know that the USA, UK and others are involved in airstrikes against Da’Esh and have special forces on the ground attempting to decapitate Da’Esh by assassinating leaders. In the last couple of weeks we have learned that the Russians are building a military presence in Syria to support the Assad regime. They have expanded port facilities and an airstrip, heavy armoured Russian convoys are moving.

So what do we have here. A situation in which a politically and economically weakened world is being impacted by a major conflict in the Middle East and where militant Islam is drawn up against western forces supposedly anti the Assad regime and Russian forces supporting that regime. Meanwhile millions are flooding out of Syria and it seems likely that sufficient numbers will reach Europe to put real pressure on national resources in even the major states.

The world is changing and becoming a much more dangerous place. Perhaps this is the moment when the old order changes forever.

Are We Headed For A Crash? Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship

Worthily Magnify

1Last week I spent a couple of days attending the National Worship Leader Conference, hosted by Worship Leader Magazine, featuring many well-known speakers and worship leaders. The conference was held about 15 minutes down the road from me, so it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m glad I went.

I met some new people, heard some thought-provoking teaching, enjoyed some good meals and conversations with worship leader friends, and experienced in-person some of the modern worship trends that are becoming the norm in evangelicalism. It was eye-opening in many ways.

Over the last few days I’ve been processing some of what I saw and heard.

Worship Leader Magazine does a fantastic job of putting on a worship conference that will expose the attendees to a wide variety of resources, techniques, workshops, songs, new artists, approaches, teachings, and perspectives. I thought of Mark Twain’s famous quote…

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“We fear the arrival of immigrants drawn here by wealth we stole from them”

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/20/britain-criminally-stupid-race-immigration

This excellent piece by Frankie Boyle sets out the stark reality of EU immigration policy. We are not prepared to deal with the consequences of our own political, economic and military actions. At best we tinker around the edges with our aid budgets without once getting to the actual root of the issues the world has with poverty, disease and conflict. Lets start with one basic fact.

Its our fault

We have over centuries laid the foundations for pretty much all of the suffering we see in the world today. Even the horror that is Daesh has its roots in the failure of Western policy in the Islamic world over the whole of the last 150 years and our guilt goes much, much further than that. Consider a few facts.

For hundreds of years the west stole the people of Africa as slaves. The Southern States of the U.S. initiated a bitter civil war to retain slavery. Much of Britain’s imperial power was built on the profits of the slave trade. We are still fighting slavery across the globe.
In the post slavery scramble for Africa the Western nations carved most of the continent up between themselves creating nations which ignored tribal boundaries and introducing European political systems which simply do not deliver in Africa.
The West then systematically robbed Africa of its wealth in gold, minerals and diamonds and so on setting up systemic exploitation of African workers and widespread systems of corruption. Even today the washing powder we use depends on the extraction of African mineral wealth.
In the so called post colonial era western business has continued to extract wealth from Africa putting almost nothing back, continuing to exploit workers and continuing patterns of corruption that have tainted African politics and business to the core.
The West has also filled Africa with arms, readily supplying both sides of any conflict. (And I do not discount the role played by the former Soviet States and China)
We do almost nothing as nations to break the cycle of disease, famine, poverty and conflict in Africa despite the efforts of many thousands of charities.
Our practices in Asia have been no different. For years India was ruled not by a colonial power but by a British business, the East India Company, which extracted Indian wealth whilst forcing British products onto the Indian market. When Britain finally left India it did so in a way which led directly to the deaths of probably millions of people in the partition of India and Pakistan.
In the Middle East over the years since the beginning of the 20th century British foreign policy was initially directed towards the establishment of a Jewish nation state. Promises made to the Arabs during the Arab revolt of the First World War were broken or ignored and the Middle East was carved up into quasi colonial spheres of influence again creating national boundaries where none existed. Later, after oil became king the west again supported corrupt regimes in order to keep feeding our thirst for fossil fuels. In the current crisis the West rightly decries the savagery of Daesh and its associates but has for years ignored the fact that Saudi Arabia has regularly publicly beheaded so called criminals. There are currently Saudi prisoners facing severe judicial beatings for daring to dissent. We are keeping those people in power.
Our policies in the Far East have been no better. British trade with China was dominated by the state sponsored export of Indian opium to China against the express will and law of China. We fought three wars against China to protect that trade and, incidentally, laid the foundation of our current problems with Class A drugs.
To put this in summary, historically when we have engaged with countries weaker than ourselves we have exported our version of civilisation largely so that we could steal their wealth. In modern times instead of bringing peace we have created war and have profited by selling the instruments of war. We have, over centuries, given many countries in the south and the east more than enough reason to hate us and we continue to do so.
Our only way out now is to turn round completely. Instead of decreasing aid budgets to increase them. To intervene to bring and end to corruption. To stop selling arms and in our military operations to remove them. To use our military strength to bring conflicts to a halt rather than tinker in the wholly ineffectual UN peacekeeping roles. Where we do so to work to establish credible governments and to stick around long enough to ensure that those governments work, To bring basics like clean water, fertile ground, healthcare, education and shelter to every part of the world that lacks it. We know the West wastes more food than we would need to feed the hungry of the world.
Some say that I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. QI hope some day you’ll join us and the world will be as one.  Or to put it another way
 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthews gospel, chapter 25.

Together in Christ

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‘In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown that in the estrangement that divides all who oppose him’ JRR Tolkien ‘The Lord of the Rings

In 664 the Synod of Whitby met to consider differences between the Celtic Church and the Church of Rome. One of the key differences seems to have been the method of calculating the date of Easter. The synod decided to follow the Roman pattern in what was probably the first major church split on English soil. It may have been the first but is was most certainly not the last. Each of the modern denominations has it roots in division and sometimes actual strife. In our English history Catholic has persecuted Protestant and the reverse. The Church of England actively persecuted the early Quakers (largely over money) and in modern times we have seen division amongst Christians at both the national and the local level. The Charismatic movement of the 60’s and 70’s gave rise to what is arguably now mainstream Evangelical practice but was strongly opposed in it’s early days. The so called ‘Toronto Blessing’ more recently gave rise to strife in the ‘Charismatic’ churches. A brief walk around any part of London reveals the existence of many, many new churches is some cases in rows on industrial estates each with its own slant on what is right and correct. it also looks as though we are going to see a doctrinal split not just in the church of England but more widely around the attitude of the Church to homosexuality.

Before Easter I was pondering again Jesus prayer in John 17

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Earlier in John 13 Jesus says “ “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

There is a command here to love one another, a desire in Jesus heart for our unity and and an outcome evident in both passages that the world will identify us as Jesus disciples and Jesus as the Christ because of our love and unity.Our disunity is a direct contradiction of the will of God expressed here in the words of Jesus and when we divide we deny those words. Division has consequences. Relationships are broken, men and women fall away, and the work of the gospel is damaged.

Does this mean we should all be together in one homogeneous church. Not at all, there is plenty of room for diversity in the church, there is even room for difference of doctrine and practice but what must be present is an openness of heart towards one another. The problem comes where division occurs and neither side can repent or let go of its hurts. Two people that truly love one another will not continue to argue and will not turn away from one another with disdain. It’s worth repeating the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Father, give us the grace to live in oneness as Jesus prayed, to abandon our anger towards one another and not to keep records of past wrongs in our hearts but always to reach out to one another in love, repentance and forgiveness.

The end of Westminster?

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The crumbling structure of the fabric of the Palace of Westminster has become something a trend. This article by Simon Jenkins  (  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/04/westminster-manchester-democracy-parliament

raises a number of important issues but everybody seems to be ignoring the other boot, or the other elephant whichever you prefer, which is the existence of the Whitehall machine. There is a reason why every department of state has its headquarters within a spit of Westminster and that’s because the office of Secretary of State and all its junior Ministerial acolytes are all held by functioning politicians with responsibilities in the House. It’s doesn’t matter what Departmental business is under way the Division bell rules and civil servants lurk in impotent stasis whilst their Minister dashes across the road. Until the Department for Culture moved into its present home in the attic of the Treasury building its ministers complained bitterly at the frequent dash from the outer wilds of their previous home in …… Trafalgar Square.
This is actually an almost insurmountable obstacle to putting Parliament anywhere except where it is. Every Minister of whatever level is supported in Parliament by a coterie of civil servants to advise them. You can see them sitting cramped in the Officials Box in the Commons or the Lords (a place which is based on the average church pew and where it is impossible to put both a human being and a radical modern invention like a ring binder in the same seat) desperately trying to catch the eye of the ushers to pass material to their Minister. Each member of that team is in fact the pinnacle of a smaller pyramid of people behind them back in the ranch watching of the Parliament channel and trying to communicate by telepathy (it is in theory outside of the rules for any civil servant to use any form of electronic communication in the House). So moving parliament means moving those people as well, even temporarily that would have a dramatic effect on the cost of government as new offices and new facilities would have to be paid for.
There are other arguably more important peripherals that go with Parliament. The Prime Ministers office, the Court of St James (the Foreign Office would need to stay in London), Portcullis House and all of the other myriad public and private sector organisations that have their home in London because London is the capital and London is where Parliment is.
Superficially the prospect of making Parliament more visible and more accountable by moving it to other parts of the country seems attractive but achieving that without an enormous and very costly peripatetic caravan of support services seems to me to be impossible.

Too much human poo on Mount Everest

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http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/03/too-much-human-poo-on-mount-everest-says-nepal

At first sight the title of this article from the Guardian seems like some kind of spoof but it highlights one aspect of a long tragedy for Everest and for Nepal as other articles on pollution, safety and even violent conflict illustrate. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/03/mount-everest-litter-nepal-climbers ) ( http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/apr/22/nepal-everest-talks-sherpa-strike-avalanche )  ( http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/30/everest-climbers-sherpa-mob-attack ).

Most people are familiar with the fact that Everest was first successfully climbed by Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay on John Hunt’s expedition 1953 (yes I know Mallory and Irving may well have got to the top in 1924 but bluntly they didn’t get down again). That was the culmination of a long series of attempts to climb the mountain all of which had to deal with the same issues, getting enough equipment and food far enough up the mountain with enough fit climbers left to get through the so called death zone, where the body is not actually capable of surviving unsupported for long, to make a successful summit bid. The 1924 expedition trekked for weeks into the Himalayas with an astonishing amount of equipment to make their bid. The Hunt expedition was not significantly smaller involving weeks of walking, the use of a multitude of porters and a complex logistical plan to put two men on the top. By that time as well climbers were beginning to realise that they needed the support of the skilled Sherpas to help them get to the top and for many years Sherpas were an equal and integral part of the team.
Gradually of course better equipment, better facilities and easier transport began to whittle away at the siege expedition method of climbing Everest. Simpler, purer, stripped down climbs were the vogue and alongside that came the media. The further into the twentieth century we got to more public climbs became and gradually the travelling public demanded to go there to. Today thousands visit Everest base camp annually, the Sherpas have taken over the mountain are are effectively building a staircase up the mountain every year. There is no longer any need to spend months planning and fund raising, anyone fit enough who has the money can fly to Everest and effectively be nursed up Everest. The final straw may well be the installation of a fixed  ladder up the Hillary Step, the only really difficult bit left of the ‘traditional’ route. Except now it might all stop working, the stresses man is placing on the mountain and the loss of respect between the climbers and the Sherpas may well bring an end to this ultimate expression of western consumerism and bring an end to the only good to come out of this now, the flow of western money into one of the poorest countries in the world and one of the most poor people of the world.